Introduction to the author and the blog :
The Mind Traveller is a Parisian singer-songwriter, passionate about inspiration in all its forms. While he’s been organizing two open mic & jam sessions per week in Paris since 2012, songwriting workshops, and tours all around Europe, the observation of the creative process has been his main obsession. For him, there is no universal truth in artistic creation, but each artist, each work, each moment has its own truth. His goal with the blog is to share his thoughts throughout the testimony of his own process, along with other artists who will be invited to do the same.
In the first article - "how to find inspiration", I talked about the writer’s block I had from 2010 until 2016 and the 5 ingredients I understood were essential for me to feel satisfied with what I create. I will now detail how I came back to songwriting with a 5 step process which was actually very similar to how I started to write songs in the first place. In a way, it was like another beginning, so this can also help those who want to start writing but are overwhelmed by the process. Seeing the full picture, the whole map, and witness how others navigated through it can help find your own way.
1/ Feel the urge to write
The first step of the process is quite an obvious one : live something which makes you feel the urge to write. Of course, you can’t completely control that, but you can build yourself a life which will make it more likely to happen by simply living as intensely as possible, by meeting inspiring people, by interacting with them on an honest and deep level, by challenging your perceptions and getting out of your comfort zone, by accepting pain or failure and learn from it, etc.… Or on the contrary, you can also feel stuck in a life that you hate, acknowledge it, and embrace it with irony so you can use it as a creative get-away. Once again, there is no universal truth to this and everybody will have that urge to write for their own reasons, so you must find yours. For me, it was triggered the most 3 times : when I was 15, 22 and 35/36.
Artwork by Lerm Marina. Quote by Kalil Gibran “There’s a time when words wear out… And when silence starts telling”
2/ Work on your skills
The first time I wrote a song when I was 15, I didn’t even get to that phase, because I didn’t feel legitimate enough to write, so I couldn’t see the point in trying to get better. But when the urge came back when I was 22 after a tragic loss, it transformed into a need to express what I needed to say in a more effective way, because I had a meaningful story to tell. Though, I wasn’t ready to do it properly, as everything I was writing didn’t seem to match my expectations in terms of quality and style, so I understood I had to work on my skills. For 3 years, I wrote about anything, removing the self-pressure to produce lyrics I was happy with, because I knew I was only practicing to get better. I experimented with everything I could think of, writing in very extreme styles from the most poetic to the trashiest ones. Then, after 3 years, I naturally wrote some lyrics I was genuinely satisfied with, as I finally had a piece which seemed to reflect everything I was. It felt like I had reached the right balance between all these extreme experiments, which resulted in creating my own style.
That song became Produits Dérivés, the first one composed with my band, which also became the opening track of my first solo EP, : https://odhibernation.bandcamp.com/track/produits-d-riv-s
During summer 2016, I realized I was facing the same problem : I felt the urge to write again but couldn’t get it out properly. After 6 years of writer’s block, I had become rusty. I remembered how inspiration was flowing in my head before, and how one idea could lead to another, so I wanted to get back into a creative mindset to generate ideas until I found the right one(s). I challenged myself to write one song per day for 1 month, not caring about quality, but only to get back to that mindset. I also went to songwriting workshops I was invited in Denmark and Ireland. All the songs I wrote were not good enough to me, but they gave me a few ideas. Then, I had a random meeting in Croatia with a girl who told me a simple sentence which triggered my brain : "I have time". It was like she gave me the central missing piece of the puzzle. These words made sense with everything I had been working on, so it became obvious that I had to write about a girl who controls time. But I wouldn’t have been inspired by her answer if I hadn’t forced myself to work on other songs before.
"Songwriting workshop with the druids", in Roscommon, Ireland, organized by Irish singer-songwriter Shane O’Fearghail from the Vienna Songwriting Circle. And many stories for another article :)
3/ Surround yourself with the right people
Unless you're a crazy genius who spent 10 000 hours working on every instrument and music gear possible, you will always need to find people with different skills to develop and finish a creative project. When you choose some people to work with, you have to make sure their skills and working process can match and complete yours, and that their work has the quality and style you want to reach. Then, you need to be aware of your own skills and be clear on what you’re expecting from them so you don’t get lost in the process. Surrounding yourself with the right team and learning how to work with them is a skill in itself that you'll have to work on.
That's what I did in 2005 when I wrote the lyrics to the first song that I liked but felt like I needed a band to compose the music. Then, when I went solo and worked on the guitar and voice by myself, I reached out to a producer / arranger I had worked with on another project, Martin Balmand, as I was quite sure he was the right man for it. In 2016, to finally get out of my writer's block, I needed the help of another singer-songwriter to co-write the first song of my new EP, Peter Deaves. I had toured with him and witnessed his skills with other struggling artists. Then, when I was working on the rest of the EP, I was surrounded by many amazing musicians, like Timothée Dorr who hepled me rearrange the guitar's harmonics on "See You In Another Life", or the band "The Trouble Notes", who inspired me to dig deeper in the composing process. I did that by organizing songwriting workshops with other artists in Paris. But these are all longer stories that I will tell in some other articles.
Christoph, by The Trouble Notes
4/ Work on your creation until it feels right
The songwriting workshops helped me experiment with other processes as we shared with other artists our thoughts on how inspiration comes to us and how we use it. I tried new ways to create and it opened my perception to many other options. Touring in May in Italy with The Trouble Notes also made me challenge my vision on songwriting. When I came back to Paris, I wrote « See you in another life » in about 30 minutes. On some level, it felt like the most honest piece I had ever written… But on another level, it was like some kind of mystical inspiration gave it to me, like it was some kind of “gift from the Universe”. So that song challenged my usual process.
In June, I went to the south of France to record the voices and acoustic guitars with Nicolas Gondran. Then, I went back to Martin for the arrangements. As that phase had always been very natural, I was already planning to release the EP in October. But once we started working, I got confused. Everything I had learnt in the past months made me have many desires, but they missed a general direction. Though, everybody I asked for feedback on the pre-mix told me it sounded great and that I should release it. I went touring so I took some distance, but the only thing I knew when I came back was that I couldn’t release something I wasn’t truly satisfied with. So, I booked another session with Martin to experiment other sounds, hoping I could finish for the October deadline, but it failed again… It took me 3 more months to understand the problem. My perception had changed so much that I had lost sight of my own truth. I was too focused on experimenting new sounds that I neglected the importance of the ones I had liked and matured for years. So, I went back to the roots before adding new instruments like violin at the last step of the process. Then, it felt right, so I was ready to get it out, 6 months after what I had originally planned.
The song "See You In Another Life"
5/ Release it
That phase will sound obvious for some but for others, it's the hardest part. Launching your music or creation in general to the world is scary. Many don't know how to do it. When. Where. Some believe they need to sign with a record company to back them or a manager, and will give up if they can't find one. Others will actually realize they're not happy with their record and won't take the risk to get it out. Or they can feel overwhelmed by all the work and skills needed for a proper independent launch as it goes way beyond the artistic field with building a marketing strategy, creating & handling promotion, social media, a website, get some PR, booking shows, or even managing a team of freelancers or partners who could do that if you have some budget.
To get through all this, you will have to remind yourself at every moment of doubt why you are doing it. If the answer to that question is too fragile, you will give up, or skip some crucial steps and have almost no exposure and reaction because you will not be able to reach the audience who could like your music. Did you really go through all that hard process for that ? If you truly like what you created, some other people will like it too, so find the right ways to reach them. Once your music find meaning for other people, it finds its purpose, and you will too.
As a conclusion, I will sum up these 5 steps with more quotes on the creative process or inspiration which illustrates them, because : Held in the palms of thousands of disgruntled people over the centuries have been ideas worth millions – if they only had taken the first step and then followed through.”— Robert M. Hayes
- 1/ Feel the urge to write
“You need chaos in your soul to give birth to a dancing star.”— Friedrich Nietzsche
“Creativity can solve almost any problem. The creative act, the defeat of habit by originality, overcomes everything.”— George Lois
- 2/ Work on your skills
“You can’t use up creativity. The more you use, the more you have.”— Maya Angelou
- 3/ Surround yourself with the right people
“It seems to be one of the paradoxes of creativity that in order to think originally, we must familiarize ourselves with the ideas of others.”— George Kneller
- 4/ Work on your creation until it feels right
“Creativity is allowing oneself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which ones to keep.”— Scott Adams
- 5/ Release it
“By believing passionately in something that still does not exist, we create it. The non-existent is whatever we have not sufficiently desired.”— Nikos Kazantzakis
“To live a creative life, we must lose our fear of being wrong.”— Joseph Chilton Pierce